The most talked-about film to come out of Sundance this year, BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD has been winning the praise of critics such as Amy Taubin of Artforum who said “BEASTS is an ecological fairy tale, both cautionary and inspiring.” Though it is difficult to avoid the hype surrounding this film in the outside world, when inside the theater, it all slips away and suddenly you are immersed in the intoxicating scenery and character of the Bathtub, the fictionalized community in the bayou of New Orleans where the film is set. Equally captivating are the performances by the multitude of non-actors who are from the surrounding area, especially Quvenzhané Wallis (Hushpuppy), and Dwight Henry (Wink).
BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD is told from the point of view of Hushpuppy, a precocious 6-year-old girl who describes her environment in poetic, Malick-esque voice-over. Her ailing father, Wink, is the leader of their poor, but not downtrodden, community and the sole caregiver for Hushpuppy since her mother “swam away.” When a Katrina-like storm threatens the Bathtub, Wink springs into action, determined to protect his home and the homes of his neighbors. Hushpuppy, who experiences the Bathtub as a place that is full of magic and humming with life, perceives the natural threat of the storm and the man-made threat of the evacuators as a stampede of auroch’s, ice-age beasts set free from melting glaciers, coming to destroy her home until they are stopped.
Utilizing the powerful and unforgettable images of post-Katrina New Orleans, BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD weaves recent disaster with folklore that speaks to the heart of Americana, where the feeling that anything is possible is prevalent even when reality contradicts it. BEASTS is not a didactic film about the facts of natural disaster and the massive human toll, nor is it attempting to comment on political reactions. (If anything, this film offers possibility of being examined from every point of view on the political spectrum, presenting libertarian rugged individualism in harmony with liberal ideas of diversity, community, and the humanity of the poor). Rather, BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD is an interpretation of the emotional experience of an apocalyptic change through the eyes of a small child.
Made by a collective of people living in New Orleans, directed by Benh Zeitlin, and starring people who live in the community, BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD is grassroots in aesthetics, theme and production. It is a true American independent film and should not be missed.
-Elizabeth Skerrett, Violet Crown Cinema